Google goes street: L.A. launch party celebrates public art

At a party Tuesday night in Los Angeles, Google showcased its Street Art project, which now has more than 10,000 images in a searchable database of murals and other public artwork worldwide.
(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

Google knows how to throw a party.

On Tuesday night, to mark the second installment of the Google Art Project’s Street Art collection – a searchable online database of public artworks around the globe – the tech giant held a lavish re-launch soiree at the popular downtown L.A. graffiti artist hangout and event space, The Container Yard.

The former mochi factory, in the heart of L.A.’s Arts District, was crawling with well-known muralists and street artists, Tristan Eaton, Levi Ponce, Random Act and Mear One, among others. As the DJ spun a mix of soul, pop and house music under lofty ceilings, guests wandered, drinks in hand, between about half a dozen exhibitions featuring different aspects of technology used in the online project.

There was the Gigapixel Art Camera used for high-resolution detail shots and a wall of tablets and smartphones showing off the project’s new mobile apps. A Google representative wandered around the party with a 45-pound, robotic-looking Street View Trekker strapped to her back.


“That was cool,” said one young woman emerging from the Liquid Galaxy exhibit where she’d been hunkered down in front of a wide, curved video screen, immersed in Google Earth imagery of Indonesian street art.

“Street art has a temporary nature – you never know when a mural will be scrubbed out or painted over,” said Lucy Schwartz, program manager for the Google Cultural Institute. “Our goal is to offer a permanent home for these works so users today and tomorrow can enjoy them and learn about them.”

The centerpiece exhibit was an “interactive, experiential, sculptural installation” by the two-person street art collective Cyrcle, made up of David Leavitt (aka Davey Detail) and David Torres (aka Rabi). The plywood booth, in the shape of a hexagon, featured black-and-white Jesus imagery on the outside and a padded, soundproofed room on the inside. Guests were encouraged to reveal their deepest secrets, privately, into a microphone. An audio-manipulated visualizer translated their words into landscape-like imagery that appeared on a large screen outside the booth.

“The quintessential form of art is landscapes,” Detail said. “You go into the booth and confess your sins or speak your convictions and it shows up as landscape patterns on-screen.”

What did this have to do with street art, exactly?

“Nothing -- and everything,” Leavitt said. “It’s all art.”

Colorful murals and patches of graffiti art seemed to turn up around every corner. Eaton’s work adorned the outside of the venue; side-by-side murals by Raphael Grischa and Fluke, a neon-hued abstract by Vyal, and works by Christina Angelina and Moncho 1929 anchored the food truck-filled courtyard.

“Street art is trying to elevate itself to a higher art form and Google is allowing us to [do that],” artist Random Act, aka Andrea LaHue, said. “It brings credibility.” LaHue and L.A.’s Gabba Gallery formed the StreetArt Brokerage Firm, which is a local partner in the Google street art database project.

For all the event’s modern pop and flash, however, it was balanced by a healthy representation of local street art history. A posse of longtime L.A. muralists, many of whom had been invited to the event by the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, another partner in the Google street art project, sipped cocktails outside – oddly nestled against a liquid nitrogen ice cream truck.

Among them: Kent Twitchell, John Wehrle, Richard Wyatt Jr., East Los Streetscapers David Botello and Wayne Healey. Not to mention Victor Henderson, whose mural “Brooks Avenue Painting” originally went up in Venice in 1969.

“It’s inevitable that these images would end up being shared on the Internet,” Henderson said of the Google street art project. “It removes them and takes them out of context and time; but it’s also a way to share them around the world.”

“We can’t physically restore all the murals in the world,” added MCLA’s Isabel Rojas-Williams. “So this project is a great way to preserve our history.”

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